I’ve read Macbeth before, when I was a Junior in High School. This is what I remember:
- “Out, out, damn spot” and a lot of guilt.
- Someone was born a really crazy way, and it fulfills a prophecy.
- There are witches and they speak in rhyme.
Now that I’ve made one of many obligatory lists, let’s begin.
“Fair is foul, and foul is fair” (I.i.11), is delivered right before Macbeth comments, “so foul and fair a day I have not seen”(I.iii.38). When words repeat themselves (post.script. the word “selfsame” is used a bagillion times as well), I get into my little obsessive dictionary mode. Fair: free from dishonesty-ample-promising-favorable. Foul: offensive to the senses (how shall the witches appear? thunder, lightning, rain–that which is sensible)-filthy-unfairly-vilely. That which is promising and favorable–Macbeth’s kingship–is about to be sought by vile, dishonest means. Two things strike me about Macbeth that makes this prophecy–deriving from evil sources–work upon his mind in such a way.
Numero uno: His disposition to chance and fortune. We learn a little about his character in the second scene. “For brave Macbeth (well he deserves the name),/Disdaining Fortune…”(I.ii.16-17). Perhaps it is minor, but here we see–through the account of another–that there is a characteristic in Macbeth that draws him to rise above fortune. This is contradicted (all I can see in this play are contradictions) in his own later statement, “If Chance will have me King, why,/Chance may crown me” (I.iii.144). Which is later contradicted by…
Numero dose: Macbeth’s lovely wife.
From unnatural news derives the desire for the unnatural. Lady Macbeth, upon learning the prophecy of the old witches, desires that nature itself be overrode for the ambitious desires. I mean, her whole speech about killing a child that she’s nursing is one of the most disgustingly -foul- things I’ve read in a Shakespeare play thus far.
So, disruption of nature, prophecy, truth from evil sources, ambition…what brilliant themes we have at the outset!